Mood disorders — like major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder — frequently co-occur with substance use disorders. Substance use disorders are present in 32 percent of all people diagnosed with a mood disorder. The rate of SUDs among people diagnosed with depressive disorders is approximately 30 to 40 percent, which is double the rate of the general population.

The ways that substance use and mood disorders influence one another’s development are often unclear. In some cases, a mood disorder may be present before substance use and be a factor in developing a substance use disorder. In other situations, a person may have no mood disorder symptoms before developing an addiction but will meet the criteria for a mood disorder after long-term substance use.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Mood Disorder Symptoms

When a mood disorder is present prior to substance use, the disorder is likely to be affected by the introduction of alcohol or other drugs. Depending on the specific mood disorder and substance used, symptoms may be worsened or temporarily relieved.

Mood Disorders and Alcohol

For a person with a pre-existing mood disorder, alcohol use is likely to intensify symptoms. Alcohol may cause symptoms of mood disorders during intoxication. These symptoms may last beyond intoxication. For example, a person with bipolar disorder who consumes large amounts of alcohol regularly may experience an increase in depressive symptoms or develop intensified feelings of aggression, euphoria or irritability associated with manic symptoms.

Mood Disorders and Marijuana

While anecdotal reports have endorsed the use of marijuana for mental health conditions,  researchers have yet to adequately answer the question “Does marijuana cause mood disorders?” Marijuana and mood disorders have a strange relationship.  Some studies have found that marijuana use can improve mood and decrease anxiety or irritability. Others have found that marijuana use by a person with a mood disorder may increase the risk of suicide. Ultimately, the risks of marijuana use in people with mood disorders seem to outweigh possible benefits.

Mood Disorders and Stimulants

Stimulants, including cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy and methamphetamines, are among the most commonly abused substances. Using stimulants may have serious consequences for people with mood disorders. A person with bipolar disorder who takes stimulants is likely to enter a manic episode. If using a stimulant medication is unavoidable, the prescribing physician should make sure supports are put in place to avoid triggering mania. For individuals with depression, stimulant use may increase symptoms of depression. In some cases, stimulant use may temporarily increase energy and mood. However, once the initial high fades, a greater depression may set in.

Statistics on Mood Disorders and Drug Abuse

According to Science & Practice Perspectives:

  • Among those seeking treatment for alcohol dependence, an estimated 20 to 67 percent had experienced depression
  • 61 percent of individuals seeking treatment for cocaine abuse had a history of mood disorders
  • 56 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder had a lifetime substance use disorder (SUD).

Additional studies on co-occurring substance use and mood disorders have found:

  • Mood disorders have a stronger relation to severe substance use than to mild or non-impairing substance use
  • Bipolar disorder is the most common mood disorder to co-occur with substance use

Drug Abuse as a Cause of Mood Disorders

In some cases, drug-induced mood disorders may develop as a result of the ways chronic substance use can change the chemical composition of a person’s brain. In other instances, a person may have mild symptoms of a mood disorder that increase to a clinically-impairing level once substance use is introduced.

Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Mood Disorder Treatment

Drug abuse is likely to impair the success of mood disorder treatment, especially if drug use is concealed from treatment professionals. Just as an untreated mood disorder can increase the relapse risk for a person with a co-occurring substance use disorder, untreated substance use can increase the risk for more frequent and intense mood disorder symptoms.

Treating Mood Disorders with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse

Failure to treat a co-occurring mood disorder during substance abuse treatment leads to higher rates of relapse, recurring mood disorder episodes and increased suicide risk. However, when treated concurrently, recovery rates rise significantly.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a co-occurring mood disorder and substance use disorder, take the first step on your recovery journey today by reaching out to a representative. The Recovery Village has treatment facilities across the country with highly skilled professionals equipped to handle co-occurring disorders. Reach out to a representative today for more information.

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Tolliver, B. K., & Anton, R. F. “Assessment and treatment of mood disorders in the context of substance abuse.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, June 2015. Accessed January 21, 2019.

Mood Disorders and Substance Abuse
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